Pentax Imaging may not get as much press as competitors Nikon or Canon, but it’s been persevering on the photographic battlefield for nearly a century, producing cameras, lenses, binoculars and other photographic accessories both for other manufacturers and for its own Pentax-branded product lines. The company started out as Asahi Kogaku Goshi Kausha (later shortened to Asahi Optical Co.) in 1919 in Tokyo, where it produced camera lenses for other companies. It finally decided to produce its own camera, the Asahiflex (the first Japanese single-lens-reflex camera to use 35mm film) in 1952, followed by the Asahi Pentax SLR in 1957. It eventually became one of the world’s largest optical companies and permanently aligned itself and its popular brand with a new name, Pentax Corporation, in 2002.
Pentax was assimilated into Hoya Corporation in 2006 as a separate photographic division, but this business transformation hasn’t changed its core fan base. Pentax users (the aforementioned Pentaxians) are enamored with their gear and go to great lengths to seek out other like-minded souls, many of whom have taken to the Internet in a show of image-creating solidarity.
Pentax devotees may exhibit an almost cult-like loyalty to the brand, but it’s by no means a secret society. Search for “Pentaxian” online and you’ll find Pentaxian.com, an online community for Pentax users that showcases brand diehards and their photos, links to Pentax products and resources (an online quiz will help you determine whether you should be afforded membership in this elite club). Head over to PentaxForums.com, the self-proclaimed largest full-scale Internet forum dedicated to Pentax photography, where users banter about everything from backlighting to bokeh. Then there’s PentaxWorld, billed as a “pleasant and user-friendly cyberspace for Pentax users, followers, and anybody [who’s] interested in Pentax [systems].” Don’t discount the many user blogs devoted to the subject, either.
All this from a brand that traditionally hasn’t put too much effort into marketing initiatives. Instead, Pentax has relied on its word-of-mouth brand evangelists, reasonable price points and product longevity to promote its various product lines (not many other camera manufacturers, if any, can use lenses from their very first camera on their current line of SLRs, as the Asahiflex can).
This laissez-faire attitude toward advertising has been shuttered since the Hoya merger, however. In April 2008, Pentax hired the RPA ad agency to handle all of the company’s marketing (including video and print ads, events and Web development) and to “reestablish the brand as a viable player in the US.” One of the agency’s first major initiatives: an integrated rebranding campaign, complete with a “Be Interesting” tagline that’s been incorporated into all of Pentax’s brochures, packaging and other communications collateral.
Some rebranding efforts go terribly wrong when the target consumer isn’t taken into account. Pentax, however, made sure to zoom in on its zealous demographic (advanced-amateur photo enthusiasts under age 40) and find out how they research, evaluate and shop for cameras and photographic accessories. It should come as no surprise to anyone who was born after the daguerreotype that, according to a Nielsen Online survey, 58 percent of consumers said they would choose the Internet if they had to choose just one method to research their consumer electronics purchase.
Hence Pentax boosting its online presence through a revamped website, which incorporates the new tagline throughout and marries it with large, bold images of Pentax products. Both the site and the new campaign overall have been designed to jive with the philosophy and lifestyle of a true Pentaxian: “independent spirits….[who] don’t follow [and who] beat their own drum.” The new site features easier navigation, expanded product information, a larger online store, and live tech support and chat capability—all designed to celebrate the brand’s autonomous, self-sufficient spirit.
That’s not to say that a rebel can’t play well with others. There have always been co-branding efforts (its merger with Hoya and its partnership with Samsung in creating the *istDS2 and *istDL2 DSLRs as well as rebranded lenses for Samsung cameras are prime examples), and even charitable ones (its PDML Photo Annual, comprised of artwork from 59 photographers worldwide, is donating all proceeds to benefit childhood cancer research).
Pentax has always prided itself on its independence. But it’s also come to the realization that depending on the input of others (including a rabid customer base that has kept it clicking away since 1919 as well as a few marketing and advertising experts) doesn’t take away from this independent spirit—it merely enhances it. Like with film, the right amount of exposure might just yield exactly the results you’re looking for.